Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jack Ely, the original...

...singer of the Kingsmen’s "Louie Louie," died at age 71. 

I say "original" because Ely was kicked out of the band shortly after the song was recorded in 1963. (I don't think that's him singing in any of the Kingsmen's videos on YouTube.)

From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

Jack Ely would later insist that as a 19-year-old singing “Louie Louie” in one take in a Portland, Ore., studio in 1963, he had followed the original lyrics faithfully. But, he admitted, the braces on his teeth had just been tightened, and he was howling to be heard over the band, with his head tilted awkwardly at a 45-degree angle at a single microphone dangling from the ceiling to simulate a live concert.

Which may explain why what originated innocently as a lovesick sailor’s calypso lament to a bartender named Louie morphed into the incoherent, three-chord garage-band cult classic by the Kingsmen that sold millions of copies, spawned countless cover versions and variations, was banned in Indiana, prompted the F.B.I. to investigate whether the song was secretly obscene, provoked a legal battle and became what Frank Zappa called “an archetypal American musical icon.”

High school and college students who thought they understood what Mr. Ely was singing traded transcripts of their meticulously researched translations of the lyrics. The F.B.I. began investigating after an Indiana parent wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1964: “My daughter brought home a record of ‘LOUIE LOUIE’ and I, after reading that the record had been banned on the air because it was obscene, proceeded to try to decipher the jumble of words. The lyrics are so filthy that I cannot enclose them in this letter.”

The F.B.I. Laboratory’s efforts at decryption were less fruitful. After more than two years and a 455-page report, the bureau concluded that “three governmental agencies dropped their investigations because they were unable to determine what the lyrics of the song were, even after listening to the records at speeds ranging from 16 r.p.m. to 78 r.p.m.”

Talk about a waste of taxpayers' money! Where was the tea party then?

If you have...

...a half an hour to spare, you really should listen to Hillary Clinton's speech yesterday about race and justice in America.

This is why Hillary is -- really -- the only serious candidate for president in 2016. Can you imagine a Republican giving a speech like this?

Nate Silver doesn't know...

...what to make of next week's elections in Britain. On Monday he wrote (my emphasis):

Nothing that I learned changed my forecast of the U.K. election, which will be held May 7. That’s partly because I, personally, don’t have a forecast of the U.K. election. Instead, after a less-than-brilliant performance going at it on our own in 2010, FiveThirtyEight has partnered with the three U.K.-based academics behind, whose forecast you can find here.

So what do we do? Fortunately, there's still Paddy Power and PredictWise. And, although both websites have the Conservatives winning the most seats, they also have Labour's Ed Miliband, above, replacing David Cameron, left, as prime minister of Britain.

P. S. PredictWise was right about Netanyahu. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

George W. Bush has been...

...out of office since 2008, so you'd be forgiven if you forgot that -- like a certain other George -- every decision he made as president, every instinct he'd ever had, was wrong.

From an article in the Times today, "In Rare Remarks, George W. Bush Argues Against the Lifting of Iran Sanctions" (my emphasis):

Former President George W. Bush said the United States must show that it can follow through on its promises, and argued against the lifting of sanctions against Iran during rare remarks about foreign policy in a meeting with hundreds of Jewish donors here Saturday night.

Mr. Bush told the 700 donors attending a closed-door Republican Jewish Coalition spring meeting that he would not criticize President Obama, whose aim to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State he applauded. But the former president nevertheless offered comments that many in the audience viewed as a tacit critique of his successor.

Mr. Bush voiced skepticism about the Obama administration’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. Although he had begun the diplomatic effort to press Iran to give up its nuclear program, Mr. Bush questioned whether it was wise to lift sanctions against Tehran when the Islamic government seemed to be caving in, and suggested that the United States risked losing leverage if it did so.

Like in the scene above, we'd all be better off if, like that other George, we ignored every instinct he ever had and did the opposite.

Stick with Obama.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I'll be in Minnesota...

...this weekend visiting my mother. Blogging should resume on Monday.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Cardinal George, who died...

...last week at age 78, was buried yesterday. Is it too soon to say something critical of the former prelate?

From his obit in the New York Times (my emphasis):

Cardinal George became a hero to many Catholic traditionalists in the United States and in Rome, where he had worked for a dozen years as vicar general of his religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

The foster care program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago closed in 2011 after he refused to comply with an Illinois state requirement that charities that receive state funding must not reject same-sex couples as potential foster care and adoptive parents.

The bishops conference supported government health care reform, but early on Cardinal George took the lead in the group’s opposition to Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act because of its mandate that employers include coverage of birth control in their health plans.

Now, I'm willing to cut the Cardinal a little slack on his homophobia. After all, we've all "evolved" on that subject in the last ten or twenty years. Heck, some of us who were laughing and retelling "fag" jokes not too long ago are now renting Airbnb rooms from 72-year-old gay men in West Hollywood!

But it's on that second point, birth control, that I have a bit of a problem with Cardinal George. I mean, come on, it's not too much to ask that he acknowledge the reality that, after almost 50 years since Humanae vitae was issued by Pope Paul VI, the overwhelming majority of Catholic couples practice some form of artificial birth control. Was it really worth opposing the Affordable Care Act, which has allowed some ten million people to finally obtain health insurance, because of some quixotic crusade on birth control? 

Healthcare reform has arguably saved lives. Isn't that more important than whether or not some married Catholic woman is on the pill?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Check out my son's video!

Hidden prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft that no GMs are talking about. Discover why this concealed talent is going to turn heads in Chicago.

And tell your friends.

Betty Willis, a commercial artist who...

...designed this iconic 25-foot-high neon sign in Las Vegas, died at age 91. From the Times:

The diamond-shaped motif, derived from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company logo and designed in the exaggerated modern Googie style — named for a coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles — is bordered by flashing yellow incandescent bulbs. Welcome is spelled out in red letters within white neon circles that resemble silver dollars, which were meant to convey good luck to gamblers. (Nevada is “the Silver State.”)

Crowning the sign is a red metal starburst outlined in yellow neon, which Mrs. Willis said was inspired by Disneyland’s symbol. “I added a Disney star for happiness,” she said.

The other side of the sign, which is maintained by the Young Electric Sign Company for the county, says: “Drive Carefully. Come Back Soon.”

Bobby Jindal has an op-ed... the Times today which demonstrates to me why the Republicans have almost no chance in 2016.

Titled, "I’m Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage," Gov. Jindal writes (my emphasis):

As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.

In 2010, Louisiana adopted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits government from unduly burdening a person’s exercise of religion. However, given the changing positions of politicians, judges and the public in favor of same-sex marriage, along with the potential for discrimination against Christian individuals and businesses that comes with these shifts, I plan in this legislative session to fight for passage of the Marriage and Conscience Act.

The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract — or taking other “adverse action” — based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.

Some corporations have already contacted me and asked me to oppose this law. I am certain that other companies, under pressure from radical liberals, will do the same. They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me.

And the moral of the story here is that, on every issue, some candidate for the Republican nomination will pull the rest of the crowded field to the right -- the far right -- until the eventual standard-bearer is unacceptable to the majority of Americans. (Think Mitt Romney in 2012 on immigration; only this time it will be worse.)

I'm convinced the Republicans -- like an alcoholic -- will have to hit rock-bottom before they can recover and become a credible national party again. This means nominating someone from the far right who gets crushed in the general a la Barry Goldwater. Perhaps this is the year.

P. S. Jindal is the same guy who told fellow Republicans two years ago that they must "stop being the stupid party" and "stop insulting the intelligence of voters." If only he would take his own advice.

Did you ever wonder...

...what the United States would be like without gridlock? What if all the red states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012 were to secede from the union? What would happen if the Democrats suddenly found themselves with overwhelming majorities in Congress? What would that be like?

Well, gives us a few clues in "37 maps that explain the American Civil War."

Now, I know what you're thinking: Who in the world has time to look at 37 maps? And that's a good question. But if you have a few minutes, check it out; it's interesting and informative. 

What really got my attention, though, was something I'm sure the authors, Timothy B. Lee and Matthew Yglesias, intended for the reader to take away from the piece. And that is this: What would the United States Congress be like without gridlock, specifically, without the modern-day Republican Party?

Take Map No. 16, for example, "Why the North's more extensive railroad network mattered":

The rail network helped the Union in concrete terms during the war, because it facilitated the movement of troops and supplies across the very large frontier. But it also signifies a larger set of Northern advantages. Those railroads were useful during wartime, but they existed long before it because the demand for them existed in the form of Northern factories and large Northern cities. The supply chain to create them existed, both in terms of metal and sophisticated financing. The same features of a modern industrial and financial capitalism that gave the North the capacity to construct such a vast rail network gave it formidable advantages in terms of shipbuilding, munitions supply, and other key sinews of war.  

Translation: A government-built infrastructure has advantages.

And then there's a whole section titled, "The Republicans' wartime agenda," which includes:

Map No. 24, "Raising the protective tariff" (all emphasis mine):

Both the Federalist Party and the Whig Party had generally argued for high taxes on imported goods in order to encourage the growth of American industry, but both were typically defeated at the polls by the Democrats. When the new Republican Party came to the fore, anti-slavery ideology was at the core of its appeal, but it retained the old Whig tariff policy. After the South seceded, the GOP suddenly found itself in possession of large majorities. Even before Lincoln took office, Congress passed Vermont Rep. Justin Smith Morrill's bill to impose a substantial tariff. The tariff question was in part an ideological one about the merits of statist versus laissez faire approaches to economic development...

Map No. 25, "Settling the West with yeoman farmers":

While Republicans offered a pro-manufacturing trade policy to Northern city dwellers, they offered a vision of free land for small farmers to Northern agriculturalists. Under the 1862 Homestead Act, western lands were surveyed according to the Public Land Survey System depicted in this diagram, and families were offered a quarter section of land at minimal cost provided that they occupied it for a set number of years and demonstrably invested in improving the land with structures and cultivation. Southern planting interests would have preferred to see large tracts of land sold off to cash-rich investors who could have worked it with slave labor. But once they seceded from the Union they no longer had a say in the matter in Congress, and the Republican vision prevailed.

Map No. 26, "Selling federal land to finance the creation of public universities":

Vermont Rep. Justin Smith Morrill's idea was that the federal government should make a gift to each state of a big bundle of land, and then instruct the states to use the proceeds of its sale to construct public universities. This was essentially the 19th-century version of a debt-financed infrastructure project, with Morrill calculating that the benefit to future generations of education would be greater than the cost to future generations of foregone land revenue. His bill passed in 1859, but was vetoed by Democratic President James Buchanan. With Lincoln in office, a new version of the same law passed in 1862. 

Map No. 27, "Creating a transcontinental railroad": 

The idea of a railroad to the Pacific Ocean was at least as old as the influx of American settlers to California. Things really picked up steam when the War Department, under the leadership of then–Secretary (and later CSA President) Jefferson Davis published an exhaustive multi-volume report detailing five possible routes. But congressional gridlock made it impossible to choose which route to take. With Davis's strong encouragement, Franklin Pierce's administration had purchased a swath of land from Mexico comprising what is now southern Arizona and southern New Mexico that would have facilitated the creation of a Southern-oriented version of the Pacific Railroad and encouraged settlement in territories that were open to slavery. Northern members generally favored the so-called "central" route that was eventually selected. With the departure of Southern legislators during the Civil War, the gridlock was broken, and the Pacific Railroad Act provided free land and subsidized loans for the construction of the railroad. 

I got the message, whether the two authors intended it or not (and I'll bet they did): Look at how the Republican Party of the Civil War years paved the way for growth in the United States by improving the nation's infrastructure. And just imagine what today's Democrats could achieve in the absence of gridlock.

Or, as Larry David put it in "The Acupuncturist," from Season 2, episode 6 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, "What’s the big deal with preserving the Union? Do we really need the South?”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When the Beach Boys sang...

...about "gettin' bugged drivin' up and down the same old strip," they must have been referring to Hawthorne Boulevard, the main drag which runs north and south through their hometown.

(By the way, check out some of Mike Love's "white guy" dance moves in the video above. He'd fit in real well at one of my extended family's gatherings.)

Before we cruise up and down Hawthorne Boulevard in my deuce coupe (okay, my son's late-model Honda Civic), let's drop in at the Hawthorne Historical Society Museum with its excellent neon sign salvaged from the old Hawthorne Grill.

As you can see, the museum is only open for three hours a day, two days a week. When I breathlessly told my son on Tuesday that I had visited it he asked me, "Were you the only one there?"

"How'd you guess?" I answered. (I suppose everyone in LA is a comedian.)

I reminded him that when he was little he thought the lyrics "I'm makin' real good bread" referred to Brian Wilson's proficiency at baking superior loaves of marble rye.

We were even.

When I was at the museum, I had a nice conversation with a couple of older women (and there were other people there) who seemed positively thrilled at the chance to talk to someone about Hawthorne's illustrious past.

They told me, for example, about another famous resident of the town. (No, not Chris Montez.)

Apparently, for the first seven or eight years of her life Norma Jeane Baker lived with foster parents at this house at 4201 W. 134th Street, not far from Hawthorne Middle School. Ms. Baker grew up to become the actress Marilyn Monroe.

The women at the museum told me that Hawthorne had once resembled a small Midwestern town. And, looking at the various displays, I had no trouble believing that.

But out on Hawthorne Boulevard, especially in front of the shuttered Hawthorne Plaza, the town seemed a little, well, down-at-the-heels.

In some ways Hawthorne reminded me of the movie Back to the Future, and what the town of Hill Valley would become by 1985. Or Pottersville, the dystopian version of Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life.

From a post I found about Hawthorne Plaza (spoiler alert: it's not a pretty picture):

Once upon a time there was a thriving aerospace community in south Los Angeles County called Hawthorne. Hawthorne was an “all American” town, in fact the town spawned one of the greatest musical groups in history, the Beach Boys . . . they went to Hawthorne High School. Hawthorne was a model of the middle class dream, where families would come to work, buy a house and raise a family and to fulfill the American dream.

You can still see remnants of that town, such as this sign in the middle of Hawthorne Boulevard celebrating the home of Northrop Corporation as the "Cradle of Aerospace."

In 1977 the Hawthorne Plaza opened its doors to meet the booming retail needs of the city. The Hawthorne Plaza was 900,000 sq ft . . . it was huge, two stories and had a five-acre parking area. The Hawthorne Plaza was an “indoor” mall so the residents did not have to brave the harsh Southern California weather in winter when temps would sometimes dip into the low 60’s!

The Hawthorne Plaza began to falter as several other large scale “shopping mall” projects were completed in nearby Torrance and Redondo Breach. The Hawthorne Plaza struggled to find and maintain quality tenants to occupy the location along with its anchor stores of “The Broadway,” “Montgomery Wards” and “JC Penny.” 

The Mall was looted during the riots of April 1992 and from that point on went on a quick downward spiral into oblivion. The Hawthorne Plaza was put out of its misery and closed in 1999. It has sat, virtually untouched except by vandals for the last 13 years.

Kitty-corner from the depressing Hawthorne Plaza and immediately across the street from Chip's, a good example of southern California Googie architecture, is the local Fosters Freeze franchise.

Why is this noteworthy?

Not just because it gave me an opportunity to take an ice cream cone break, but because it was one of the places where Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys actually hung out.

In fact, it was at this "hamburger stand" that Brian was said to have spotted a girl driving through one day in a Ford Thunderbird, which inspired him to write the 1964 hit "Fun, Fun, Fun."

From there I drove south on Hawthorne Boulevard, past two other businesses I thought may have been around in Brian Wilson's day.

The first was Phil's Bicycle Shop, which Googlemaps describes as a "low-key bike shop with sales & repairs."

And the second was Leon Imperial, which appeared to be a discount furniture store.

Finally, at the far south end of Hawthorne Boulevard, past the middle school and close to Marilyn Monroe's childhood home, was Pizza Show, a family-run joint since 1958 and another one of the Beach Boys' real-life hangouts.

I didn't stop in; I wasn't in the mood for pizza after having just wolfed down that ice cream cone.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of the Beach Boys' music in my formative years. As I mentioned earlier, I idolized my oldest brother and romanticized the mid-1960s. And although my taste in music has since evolved to include some classical and jazz as well as succeeding generations of rock 'n' roll (but not rap!), the Beach Boys were my first love, musically, and I'll always turn up the volume when one of their songs comes on the radio.

I mean -- come on -- girls, beaches and endless summer? What's not to like?

It was time now to put the city of Hawthorne in my rear-view mirror and drive on.

Remember Ronald Reagan's...

..."Eleventh Commandment"? Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republican. Expect to see a lot of sinners real soon.

Of all the Republican hopefuls who showed up in New Hampshire last weekend (and the two who didn't), I think you could reasonably expect at least ten or so of the following thirteen to actually make a run for the White House.

Three candidates have already announced:

Marco Rubio
Rand Paul
Ted Cruz

Three more are all but certain to announce:

Jeb Bush
Scott Walker
Mike Huckabee

And seven more have a better than 50/50 chance of announcing:

Ben Carson
Rick Perry
Chris Christie
Bobby Jindal
Rick Santorum
Carly Fiorina
Lindsey Graham

Where am I going with this? While most everyone had something snarky to say about Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, at some point they will have to turn their fire on each other.

If you're standing on a debate stage with nine or ten other candidates, how else would you expect to distinguish yourself from the rest of the group? And you may not get that many chances, either. There will be fewer debates this time around. What if you're lagging in the polls? How else do you break out?

So while everyone had fun at Mrs. Clinton's expense last weekend, this thing could turn into a circular firing squad real fast. And it could get real ugly.

Monday, April 20, 2015

New Hampshire packed in 19...

...potential candidates for president at its First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit in New Hampshire this weekend. And two more couldn't make it! That makes -- let's see -- 21 candidates running for the Republican nomination in 2016.

While it might just be easier to list all of the Republicans not running for president, here are the 21 candidates with their current percentage chance of winning, according to PredictWise. Did anyone "move the needle" this weekend?

Jeb Bush, 31.6 percent
Scott Walker, 18.1
Marco Rubio, 17.4
Rand Paul, 8.0

Less than five percent chance:

Ted Cruz
Mike Huckabee
Ben Carson

Less than two percent chance:

Rick Perry
Chris Christie

Less than one percent chance:

Bobby Jindal
John Kasich
Rick Santorum

Didn't make the list:

Donald Trump 
George Pataki
Carly Fiorina
John Bolton
Bob Ehrlich
Jim Gilmore
Lindsey Graham
Peter King
Dennis Michael Lynch

P. S. No matter who wins the nomination the generic Democratic candidate is favored over the Republican, 57.3 to 42.7.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“Vinnie, we gotta talk about what ‘bookmaking’ means.”

Paul Almond, whose television film...

...Seven Up! had to be one of the inspirations for the 2014 movie Boyhood (above), died at age 83.  

Seven Up! has to be one of the best movies I've never seen (but is on my bucket list).

From Almond's obit in the Times (my emphasis):

Forty minutes long and shot in black and white, “Seven Up!” examined the enduring British class system through the lives of 14 7-year-olds from across the socioeconomic spectrum. He can be heard asking the children — 10 boys and four girls — questions about family, love and adult aspirations.

Though the program was enthusiastically received by viewers and critics, it was intended as a one-off, and Mr. Almond later returned to Canada, where he had a successful career as a TV and film director and, in recent years, a novelist.

[Director Michael] Apted came up with the idea of revisiting the children at seven-year intervals. He directed the next installment, “7 Plus Seven” (1970), and those that followed — “21 Up” (1977), “28 Up” (1984) and so on — seeing his subjects through their professional lives, marriage and parenthood, ambitions fulfilled and ambitions thwarted. The most recent entry, “56 Up,” was released in 2012 in Britain.

Before we go back... Hawthorne, let's take a little break and hit the beach.

If you're a hardcore Beach Boys fan like me, you may already know that Brian Wilson was neither a "rodder" (hot rod enthusiast) nor a surfer (unlike his brother Dennis). But what you may not be aware of is that he was actually afraid of the water. And that's ironic, since the Beach Boys started out as a surfing group.

Singing the title track from their first album, "Surfin' Safari," written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, this could very well be the first video ever made of the Beach Boys (and a pretty crude one at that). With their 14-year-old neighbor, David Marks, on rhythm guitar at far left, the Pendletones, as they were originally called, performed in Pendleton shirts (get it?), which were a fad at the time. (It was only until the boys opened the crate with their first shipment of records that they found out they had been rechristened the Beach Boys.)

The Boys followed this album the following year with Surfin' U.S.A., featuring the title track, above. From Wikipedia:

The song features Brian Wilson's surfing-related lyrics set to the music of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen." According to Wilson,

"I was going with a girl called Judy Bowles, and her brother Jimmy was a surfer. He knew all the surfing spots. I started humming the melody to 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and I got fascinated with the fact of doing it, and I thought to myself, 'God! What about trying to put surf lyrics to 'Sweet Little Sixteen's melody? The concept was about, 'They are doing this in this city, and they're doing that in that city' So I said to Jimmy, 'Hey Jimmy, I want to do a song mentioning all the surf spots.' So he gave me a list."
Now, if you're only a casual fan of the Beach Boys, you may not know that they didn't pioneer the surf rock genre but merely rode the wave which had already been made popular by such artists as Dick Dale, aka the King of the Surf Guitar, above.

Dale himself was a surfer and wanted his music to reflect the sounds he heard in his mind while surfing. While he is primarily known for introducing the use of guitar reverb that would give the guitar a "wet" sound, which has since become a staple of surf music, it was Dale's staccato picking that was his trademark.

His performances at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California during the summer of 1961, and his regional hit "Let's Go Trippin'" later that year, launched the surf music craze, which he followed up with hits like "Misirlou" (1962).

(The Boys covered both of those on Surfin' U.S.A.)

On the first day of my vacation I spent the late morning and early afternoon in Hawthorne before heading out to Hermosa Beach (at top). On the following day, Tuesday, I did the same, except I hit Redondo Beach (above) instead. (Those two names just sound cool, don't they?)

It was from the pier at Hermosa (above), I believe, that Dennis -- the only true beach boy in the group -- used to fish. He later picked up surfing from the "bums" on the beach and was the first to suggest to Brian and Mike that they take advantage of the craze by writing some surf-themed songs.

At Redondo, I even got to watch some real, live surfers (can you see them out there?) while doing my best impersonation of a beachcomber. (I wonder if anyone was fooled by this Midwestern hodad.)

"409" was on the flip side of "Surfin' Safari," and was the first of many of the group's hot rod songs written with the help of Gary Usher and later Roger Christian. (Brian wasn't a "rodder," remember?) The sound of the engine at the beginning was recorded not from an actual Chevrolet 409 but from a similar car with a "Big Block" engine in front of the Wilsons' house one night. It caused a bit of a ruckus in the neighborhood.

And that reminds me, it's time to get back into my not-so-hot rod and return to Hawthorne and take a little spin around the actual town in which the Beach Boys grew up. Won't you join me?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Brian Wilson was a huge... of the Four Freshmen -- huge.

And you can tell from this faithful Beach Boys remake of that Four Freshmen classic, "Graduation Day." (Coincidentally, the song was on the B-side of "Be True To Your School.")

But it begs the question, What did Brian do immediately after graduating from Hawthorne High School? We know he went on to form the Beach Boys, but they didn't release their first single, "Surfin'," until almost 1962. What did he do in the meantime?

And the answer is, he enrolled for exactly one year at El Camino Community College in nearby Torrance.

Interestingly, so did Chris Montez -- was he stalking him? -- and another Hawthorne High alum, Al Jardine. (As well as Bo Derek, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Frank Zappa.)

In fact, it was at El Camino that the two former members of the Hawthorne Cougars backfield reunited after that disastrous lateral that resulted in Jardine's broken leg.

I can just imagine Brian walking to class in the fall of 1960 and spotting Al, limping, on the other side of the quad:

"Hey Al! Al Jardine! It's me -- Brian, Brian Wilson!"


"You know, from Hawthorne High. We were on the football team together! Well, you were a star halfback and I was only a third-string quarterback..."

"Oh, I remember this guy," Al mutters under his breath. "What does he want?"

"I was just wondering if you'd like to see some of the songs I've written."

"Uh, I'm kind of late for my part-time job. Ever since I lost my football scholarship..."

"Come on, it'll only take a minute. I was hoping to form a rock 'n' roll band!"

Al must have relented, because the two began practicing some of Brian's songs in a room on campus and the rest, as they say, is history.

I'm sure the El Camino of today looks nothing like the one Brian and Al attended in 1960-61.

But, as you can see, it's really a beautiful campus. And I wonder, was it free when Brian Wilson went there?

(By the way, if you see a guy tooling around town in a khaki EL CAMINO COLLEGE baseball cap, that's probably me; who else in Chicago would have a hat like that?)

But that was enough sightseeing for one day -- or two, I can't remember. It was time to hit the beach!

Before I take you down Redondo Beach Boulevard to the sea, however, here are just a few pictures of Mike Love's alma mater, Susan Miller Dorsey High School, near Baldwin Village in Los Angeles. (He didn't grow up in Hawthorne, remember?)

Dorsey was founded in 1937 and is now a predominantly African-American school. Besides Mike Love, Dorsey counts among its graduates "Sparky" Anderson, Marilyn McCoo (a founding member of The Fifth Dimension) and none other than Robert Kardashian, Kim's father, who helped defend O.J. Simpson in that famous 1995 murder trial.

Next: A little-known fact about Brian Wilson. And then let's head back to Hawthorne and drive around the town some.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“I hope no one’s noticed, but I am totally phoning it in today.”

Now that we have...

...a Democratic nominee for president and at least three official Republican hopefuls, with at least two more -- Jeb Bush and Scott Walker -- waiting to take the plunge, let's check in with PredictWise and Paddy Power to see just what the smart money is saying.

And what jumps out at me is how Ted Cruz is losing ground.

On PredictWise, the junior senator from Texas is now given only a 4.8 percent chance of winning the GOP nomination, in sixth place behind Mike Huckabee, at 7.5 percent. I thought this guy was raising oodles of cash?

Over at Paddy Power, Cruz's odds have fallen to 14/1, tied for seventh with Paul Ryan -- who isn't even running -- and behind Ben Carson, at 12/1, the neurosurgeon who has never been elected to anything.

What's going on here? What am I missing?

Percy Sledge, who hit No. 1...

...with the 1966 song, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” died at age 74.

Advertising legend Lee Garfinkel won the prestigious Cannes Lions Award for that Subaru spot.

While my brother's generation...

...listened to "Be True To Your School" in the mid-1960s, my high school classmates and I were subjected to the nihilistic "School's Out," by Alice Cooper:

Instead of Mike Love's celebration of "school spirit" (my emphasis):

When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
"Now what's the matter buddy
Ain't you heard of my school
It's number one in the state" 

Alice Cooper sang, "School's been blown to pieces!"


Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we ain't got no innocence
We can't even think of a word that rhymes

A lot had changed in America in the ten years between my brother's high school graduation in 1966 and my own in 1976. I wonder if he's ever even heard of Alice Cooper:

"A girl rock 'n' roller? Cool."

(Note: This is Part III of "My Pilgrimage to Hawthorne, California." Click here for Part I and here for Part II. As I mentioned, unless you're as big a fan of the Beach Boys as I am, you probably need read no further.)

After visiting York Elementary School it was time for me to drive the mile or so south to Hawthorne Middle School at W. 129th Street.

You may be wondering right about now, What's with this guy and his need to see the schools in which Brian Wilson and his brothers attended way back in the 1950s?

That's a fair question. (Although I doubt you'd be asking it if you were still reading.) And the answer is: context. You've heard the famous line from Wordsworth, "the child is father of the man"? Well, how about Kurt Vonnegut's observation that, "Life is nothing but high school"?

(And I can attest to that last one. My 95-year-old mother is still dealing with cliques and "in crowds" in her seniors' residence. After a rocky initiation last summer, though, my mom has formed her own little clique with three other women. "That's great!" I said the other day. "Now you can exclude people!")

But back to Hawthorne Middle School, or Hawthorne Junior High, as I'm sure it must have been called when the Wilson brothers attended it. ("Middle School" is a modern invention, isn't it?)

As I approached the entrance to the school on W. 129th Street from Hawthorne Boulevard I thought to myself, What the heck is this, CHECKPOINT CHARLIE? (I told you many of the schools in LA resemble prisons.)

I ignored the off-putting signs and strolled onto the grounds. It was much nicer on the inside. Above was the view to my left.

And the view to my right.

As you can see, Hawthorne Middle School is a "California Distinguished School."

I won't tell you what snarky thought went through my mind when I read that, but suffice it to say I had a few choice words for California's Proposition 13 from 1978 (my emphasis):

The proposition decreased property taxes by assessing property values at their 1975 value and restricted annual increases of assessed value of real property to an inflation factor, not to exceed 2% per year.

California public schools, which during the 1960s had been ranked nationally as among the best, have decreased to 48th in many surveys of student achievement.

Now, apparently, the cause of that decline is debatable, but I couldn't help thinking, This is what happens when you starve public schools of funding. You end up creating a two-tiered, class-based society. I've often thought that California is a bellwether for the rest of the country. If I'm right, God help us!

Time to move on to the crown jewel of my archaeological expedition: Hawthorne High School. Founded in 1951 with only 9th and 10th grades, the first graduating class was in 1954. (Brian Wilson graduated in 1959 or 1960; I forget which.)

My destination was less than a mile west on W. El Segundo Boulevard (ya gotta love those Spanish-sounding names!). I took a quick loop around the campus to get the lay of the land, and here are some of the houses I saw (again, context):

I then got out of my car and took a lap around on foot.

And my first response was, This place looks new! It's not at all what I expected.

But then I noticed, through a fence, what must have been the original school around which this new facade was constructed. Again: it looked like a prison yard. But I'll bet that was the place Brian Wilson and his brothers (and bandmate Al Jardine) attended back in the 1950s.

Before I got back in my car I had a chance to get a good look at the baseball field in which Brian Wilson played center field for the Cougars.

And the football field, where, as a third-string quarterback, Brian's errant lateral to halfback Al Jardine resulted in the latter's suffering a broken leg. (I'm not exactly sure how the one necessarily led to the other, but I do remember reading it somewhere.)

Finally, before we take our leave of Hawthorne High, it's worth mentioning another famous alum connected to the music industry. (And I'm not talking about Olivia Harrison, the wife of Beatle George Harrison.)

No, I'm referring of course to Ezekiel Christopher Montanez. Perhaps you know him by his more famous monicker, Chris Montez. Born in 1943, Montez was either in Brian's class at Hawthorne or a year behind.

In any event, he foreshadowed the rise of Latino culture in the Los Angeles area with his 1962 hit, "Let's Dance."

Makes for an interesting contrast with another song on the same subject, the risk of asking a girl to dance, this time in the WASP-y southern California style of those all-American Beach Boys. (Not a great video; would this one have been a better choice?)

Next: Where did Brian Wilson go after Hawthorne High? And what about that other Beach Boy, Mike Love? Where did he go to high school?